Thursday, September 08, 2005

Human brain still evolving

Here's some science news that's sure to cause some controversy: a research group led by Bruce Lahn at the University of Chicago is reporting here and here that they've found evidence for strong positive selection in very recent human history for certain genetic variants of two genes involved in determining brain size (one, microcephalin, is said to have been selected for within the last 37,000 years, and the other, ASPM, within the last 5,800). On its own, this is neither surprising nor controversial: natural selection never stops and still acts on human populations today. But here's the kicker:
They report that with microcephalin, a new allele arose about 37,000 years ago, although it could have appeared as early as 60,000 or as late as 14,000 years ago. Some 70 percent or more of people in most European and East Asian populations carry this allele of the gene, as do 100 percent of those in three South American Indian populations, but the allele is much rarer in most sub-Saharan Africans.

With the other gene, ASPM, a new allele emerged some time between 14,100 and 500 years ago, the researchers favoring a mid-way date of 5,800 years. The allele has attained a frequency of about 50 percent in populations of the Middle East and Europe, is less common in East Asia, and found at low frequency in some sub-Saharan Africa peoples.
I'm bracing myself for racist misinterpretation of these results: people will grab on to this to claim that this is scientific proof that black people are genetically determined to be less intelligent than whites, Asians, and others.

The key thing to notice is that these are only two genes out of several that control brain size (and many, many others that control how the brain is wired up and how it changes with learning and memory):
[Lead author] Dr. Lahn said there may be a dozen or so genes that affect the size of the brain, each making a small difference yet one that can be acted on by natural selection. "It's likely that different populations would have a different make-up of these genes, so it may all come out in the wash," he said. In other words, East Asians and Africans probably have other brain enhancing alleles, not yet discovered, that have spread to high frequency in their populations.
And obviously, brain size is not the whole story when it comes to intelligence - so the set of interesting brain genes isn't just the "dozen or so" regulating brain size, but includes those with more subtle effects on the wiring of neural circuits.

What's more, we don't even know if the selected-for allele actually affects brain size compared to the other alleles - it could have some completely different effect that was selected for. (After all, genes don't encode brain size; they encode proteins that regulate, for example, how long neural stem cells keep dividing. These mechanisms happen at the molecular level, and so could have other effects beyond just cell proliferation.) To look at this, you'd have to examine people's actual brain size and compare that to which alleles of ASPM and/or microcephalin they have.

Fortunately, Dr. Lahn appears to be appropriately cautious about interpreting his group's results. Meanwhile, get ready for people to read too much into these results and then start claiming that it's "just political correctness" that makes this controversial and praising Lahn for his "courage in standing up against the liberal academic orthodoxy" or some other such nonsense.

56 Comments:

Blogger TangoMan said...

On its own, this is neither surprising nor controversial: natural selection never stops and still acts on human populations today.

To whom would you be referring? All those people lacking your expertise who read S. J. Gould, and relied on his pronouncements as being definitivem, are quite likely to be surprised by this.

Gould wrote:

"It looks as though all non-African diversity is a product of the second migration of Homo sapiens out of Africa - a migration so recent that there just hasn't been time for the development of much genetic variation except that which regulates some very superficial features like skin color and hair form. For once the old cliché is true: under the skin, we really are effectively the same. And we get fooled because some of the visual differences are quite noticeable."

Look, people may play this up because they're pushing some racist agenda, or they may welcome this news for the effect it has on pushing back against the Gouldian polemic. For striking a balance.

I'm curious whether you braced yourself against the dominant zeitgeist which preceeded the Genomic Age? Getting the nature side into a debate was resisted fiercely and quite frequently people's characters were attacked. There is no side of the angels on the nature/nurture divide. Think of this like a Hegelian Dialectic. In time, as this information gets processed and accepted, the interest, fixation, flirtation, obsession, whatever you prefer to call it, will find its own balance with the nurture side of the equation.

I'm curious whether you're prepared to issue these warnings every time a new paper is released which identifies genetic-based population differentials and if you've done the same on culture-based population differential papers which reinforce the view that genetics matters for very little in assessing group dynamics and evolution?

9/09/2005 04:14:00 AM  
Blogger PZ Myers said...

It's a very interesting study, and it does show evidence of selection. But you're right: people are going to jump on this as justification for scientific racism.

The magic word is pleiotropy. The authors are clear on it -- we have no idea what was being selected for.

As for the bizarre nonsense about the "Gouldian polemic" above...it's not as if this is the first time alleles have been found to have an uneven distribution. CCR-5Δ32, for instance?

9/09/2005 04:36:00 AM  
Blogger TangoMan said...

Bizarre nonsense? How you infer that anything I wrote is claiming that this is the first time alleles have been found to have an uneven distribution is beyond me and more appropriately qualifies as bizarre nonsense.

And as for the remainder of your rejoinder, am I to understand that you cite CCR5Δ32 because it was prominent in the news when it was reported that low CCR5Δ32 frequency was related to higher susceptibility to HIV-1 infection and the general public didn't draw any unwarranted inferences that contradicted Gould's writings. If that's your argument then I'm sure the same logic will be applied in this instance and Andrew's post is all for naught.

9/09/2005 05:05:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

"am I to understand that you cite CCR5Δ32 because it was prominent in the news when it was reported that low CCR5Δ32 frequency was related to higher susceptibility to HIV-1 infection and the general public didn't draw any unwarranted inferences that contradicted Gould's writings. If that's your argument then I'm sure the same logic will be applied in this instance and Andrew's post is all for naught."

I wouldn't be so sure about that. Intelligence is a much more incendiary - and historically burdened - topic than susceptibility to HIV-1. Racism against blacks has rarely claimed that they are more susceptible to HIV-1 (if anything, racist stereotypes often claim black people are "hardier" or "tougher"), but the idea that blacks are less intelligent has always been at the forefront of racism.

"I'm curious whether you're prepared to issue these warnings every time"

No, I write about whatever catches my interest; this blog isn't the equivalent of SullyWatch or SpurlockWatch but with a focus with proving the fruitlessness of the nature/nurture dichotomy. I don't see why just because I've written one post on this subject implies that I must follow the subject on this blog very closely from now on and give equal attention to both sides. To be honest, this study caught my eye because I've been following the microcephalin/ASPM/etc story/stories for a while (as PZ Myers said, it is, after all, a very interesting study) - as a neuroscientist rather than a population geneticist, my primary interest is the details of how these genes (and FOXP2, or that myosin gene whose name escapes me at the moment) affect brain development and how they could explain how a tiny fraction of the genome causes such important phenotypic changes (i.e. between chimp and humans). I took the warning interpretation in this post because the bit about population distribution was striking and definitely in danger of misinterpretation given historic - and current - facts about racism.

9/09/2005 08:47:00 AM  
Blogger Diana said...

"people will grab on to this to claim that this is scientific proof that black people are genetically determined to be less intelligent than whites, Asians, and others."

You bet. Steve Sailer has already done this, explicitly.

"More likely, it might well mean that people from different parts of the world might have different mental skills on average. For example, people from Africa might be better at improvising jazz solos, or playing point guard, or other skills that require the kind of interpersonal improvisatory skills that are hard to measure with an IQ test. "

By this line of reasoning, do you think that the presence of the alleles in 100% of American Indian groups means they are more intelligent than whites?

9/09/2005 01:41:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Ugh, indeed he has (for others reading this, it's on isteve.com). What a load of crap. Not only do we not know whether these alleles actually change brain size compared other alleles, we certainly do not know whether they have anything to do with intelligence, and even more certainly do not know whether they have anything to do with what is measured on IQ tests.

The mention of jazz solos is particularly absurd. Is he unaware of the long tradition of improvisation in classical music with such masters as Mozart and Beethoven?

9/09/2005 02:22:00 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

I was thinking the exact same thing with respect to classical music. Of course Bach was the greatest improviser of all. It's too bad that improvisation dropped out of classical music but that's an issue of....training.

9/09/2005 03:52:00 PM  
Blogger driftwood said...

The mass media and public seem to stay fixated on this idea of here’s THE gene for this trait, there’s THE gene for that trait. Of course, lots of genes interact in messy hard to sort out ways. I’ve been seeing more articles in science journalism looking at the research on gene expression. For instance, I just read something last week that showed that gene expression in identical twins diverged as they aged and were exposed to different environments. So maybe even the nature/nurture divide is less a divide and is instead another messy hard to sort out tangle.

9/09/2005 05:18:00 PM  
Blogger gcochran said...

Anyone interested in some side bets on whether these alleles actually do make any difference on psychometric tests?

9/09/2005 09:31:00 PM  
Blogger Steve Sailer said...

The quote from me was taken severely out of context. Here is what I actually posted on my www.iSteve.com website:

The NYT wrote:

"Even if the new alleles should be shown to improve brain function, that would not necessarily mean that the populations where they are common have any brain-related advantage over those where they are rare. Different populations often take advantage of different alleles, which occur at random, to respond to the same evolutionary pressure, as has happened in the emergence of genetic defenses against malaria, which are somewhat different in Mediterranean and African populations. If the same is true of brain evolution, each population might have a different set of alleles for enhancing function, many of which remain to be discovered."

I commented:

"Right. But it seems unlikely that they would have different brain genes that had exactly the same effects on cognitive development and no other effects. That's like tossing a coin and having it land on its edge. More likely, it might well mean that people from different parts of the world might have different mental skills on average. For example, people from Africa might be better at improvising jazz solos, or playing point guard, or other skills that require the kind of interpersonal improvisatory skills that are hard to measure with an IQ test."

Further, I'm always fascinated by "anti-racist" whites who denounce anybody who points out the abundant evidence that sub-Saharan Africans, when adjusted for differences in IQ, appear to have on average cognitive skills superior to whites at improvisatory interpersonal decision-making.

As I've been pointing out for almost a decade, by their very nature of having fixed answers, IQ tests can't measure this black skill at improvising surprising answers. This helps explain paradoxes such as how Muhammad Ali could be a tremendous wit and have a measured IQ of 78 (which black history professor Gerald Early has stated sounds quite right about Ali's lousy mental skills at the kind of things IQ tests are supposed to measure).

If you want to learn more about this important subject, you can read:

http://www.isteve.com/blackath.htm

http://www.isteve.com/jensen.htm

http://www.vdare.com/sailer/lynn_and_flynn.htm

9/09/2005 09:34:00 PM  
Blogger Steve Sailer said...

I wanted to get in on the bet, too.

Too bad, nobody's taking Greg up on his bet.

Well, we all know what talks and what walks.

9/10/2005 04:43:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Steve, I read your entire blog post before I commented on it, and so it's really not taken out of context at all. (You might have picked up on this if you had read my comment and noticed that I actually pointed to isteve.com.) The problem I had with your comment is mainly that it is wild speculation utterly unsupported by evidence, as noted above: i.e., that we have absolutely no idea whether the alleles that have been so strongly and recently selected for actually have anything to do with what is measured on IQ tests. They might well increase "interpersonal improvisation skills" - especially since under some theories of human evolution, intelligence was selected for as an "arms race" between people trying to outwit and deceive their fellow tribe-mates.

And, again, your jazz comment was ridiculous because it ignores the tradition of brilliant virtuoso solo improvisation in Western classical music.

As for the bets, I don't make bets on scientific discoveries, and that has nothing to do with either talking or walking, so your taunt has no effect on me. I am almost 100% sure that Bruce Lahn will want to follow up on this paper by first seeing what the phenotype of the allele is (e.g. measure brain sizes of people with it and without it) and then, if it does affect brain size, seeing what cognitive effect it might have. I'm looking forward to it. (Notice also that I have taken no position on what the results of these future experiments are likely to be; I have only urged proper interpretation of the [limited] results that we currently have.)

The other thing to keep in mind is that, as I posted about last week, a significant proportion - perhaps even the majority - of published research findings are probably false, so we will want to see replicated results, not a single paper.

9/10/2005 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

"It's too bad that improvisation dropped out of classical music but that's an issue of....training."

I couldn't agree more - one of my music professors in college was a brilliant improvisor (improviser?) in the style of Mozart - in the last lecture of the semester, he took random themes from the audience and improvised a 15-minute (very virtuoso) cadenza based on those themes. It was amazing, and I wish people did it more... (I have a live recording of Nigel Kennedy playing the Beethoven violin concerto with an improvised cadenza in the last movement - I thought it was great that he did it, though didn't think it came off so well...) I agree that it is an issue of training - Viennese musicians did it once, they (and we, as their musical descendents) can do it again!

"So maybe even the nature/nurture divide is less a divide and is instead another messy hard to sort out tangle."

Yes, I think that's very true - Matt Ridley has a book called "Nature via Nurture" (published also as "The Agile Gene") which explores this topic. Though I haven't had a chance to read it, I think the title sums things up pretty well! Nature/nurture is a false dichotomy - the relationship is indeed a messy tangle.

9/10/2005 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger Steve Sailer said...

Andrew says: "As for the bets, I don't make bets on scientific discoveries, and that has nothing to do with either talking or walking, so your taunt has no effect on me."

Why not? It's a way to put your money where your mouth is.

I'm willing to bet you that people with at least one of Lahn's two alleles show a statistically significant edge in IQ. Greg Cochran sounds like he wants to do the same.

Sounds like it's put up or shut up time.

This is fun.

9/10/2005 08:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Jason Malloy said...

"The problem I had with your comment is mainly that it is wild speculation utterly unsupported by evidence"

Give me a break. This is your ideological conceit, not Sailer's. There are only two legitimate criticisms 1) either the comments suggesting these genes are related to cognition (which is Bruce Lahn’s own stated position [*]) were illogical or 2) the comments are empirically false (which they obviously aren’t). But it's absurd to pull the ol’ Nancy Hopkins shuffle and condemn a person's comments on the (ideological) grounds of "speculation", esp. when the thoughts were clearly qualified with probabilistic language. "Speculation" is not at odds with reason or science. Darwin also "speculated" (without an appropriate theory of heredity) that the transitional forms of human evolution would be found in Africa, reasoning from the biogeography of forms - we just have a little trouble decrying it as "speculation" today, because, oh, he happened to be right. One person's "speculation" then becomes another man's theoretical framework that is, or has the potential for, making all the right predictions and getting the job done.

As it applies to this "speculation", there are four reasons why this is something more like the latter: 1) Evolution (both under Darwin's understanding and under the Neo-Darwinian genetic understanding) has implications for geographically/ecologically dispersed organisms, one of them is that racial differences in any number of body and behavioral functions is both possible and likely. 2) The available evidence indicates that at least some racial differences in intelligence (and brain size), more likely have a genetic component. [**] 3) This Lahn evidence is consistent with, though does not "prove", such differences, while 4) this Lahn evidence is not consistent with a number of arguments that have been thuggishly (and stupidly) asserted over the last 60 years against such differences existing, among them: "there was not enough time" for the evolution of racial differences in cognition, "racial differences are just "skin deep"", and "race does not exist" (the platonic/post-modernist "refutation" of population genetics). Another argument (already smacked-down by behavior genetics), that any alleles associated with cognition would quickly be selected to fixation in every population, is also undermined.

So, Sailer, Cochran [***] or none of your other “racist” boogey men have shown us a “misinterpretation of the evidence”, this is about induction and likelihoods, and the evidence as well as the authors of these findings do suggest a number of interpretations that you have rejected and condemned (i.e. these genes affect cognition). The findings are also importantly consistent with what evolutionary biologists, behavior geneticists, and psychologists have been studying and telling us about race and cognition for 100 years. While, the finding is not consistent with a number of high-profile, and widely repeated arguments made against the existence of such differences by high-profile scientists such as Stephen Gould and Richard Lewontin.

“As for the bets, I don't make bets on scientific discoveries, and that has nothing to do with either talking or walking, so your taunt has no effect on me”

Well you sure do like to character assassinate over what is and is not ok to talk about and take from scientific discoveries, so it probably has nothing to do with prudence either. It speaks quite loudly that you aren’t willing to make yourself accountable for your own self-righteous ex cathedras at others' expense.


“The mention of jazz solos is particularly absurd. Is he unaware of the long tradition of improvisation in classical music with such masters as Mozart and Beethoven?”

Um, are you unaware that the talents of Mozart, Beethoven, and classical musicians are irrelevant to the possible mental talents of sub-Saharan populations? You’re thinking platonically, while the issue is possible differences in talent and gene frequencies, which I might add, Sailer presented only as intriguing (and potentially fruitful) possibilities. No more inexcusable a topic to publicly explore than the still untested (and genuinely absurd) theory of “multiple intelligences” by Howard Gardner. I might also add that Sailer did this in the spirit of undermining arguments about overall racial “superiority” or “inferiority”. Strange that a suggestion that even if blacks do, on average, have genes related to lower IQ scores, they most likely have other genes related to important mental skills anyway, causes some people so much trouble. I can’t help but think that if blacks are found to have low frequencies of many genes related to IQ (and this is likely) that such “speculative” “racist” arguments about black mental talents will “mysteriously” gain in their appeal to many of the same people.

By the way, I speak for myself. Contrary to what everybody loves to assert about Sailer, his positions on genetics have been fairly agnostic:

"Do these black advantages originate in culture or in biology? Or do nurture and nature interact? Who knows for sure? I don't. And neither do all those who insist that there must only be social explanations, that to inquire with an open mind is racist."

http://members.aol.com/steveslr/blackath.htm

"Sowell argues for cultural causes [for mental differences]. Personally, I would bet on genes playing some sort of role, but I wouldn't give you 100 to 1 odds in favor, either."

http://www.vdare.com/sailer/unthinkable.htm

[*] From the NYT (Andrew’s first link):

”Commenting on these critics' suggestions that the alleles could have spread for some reason other than their effects on the brain, Dr. Lahn said he thought such objections were in part scientifically based and in part due to reluctance to acknowledge that selection could occur in a trait as controversial as brain function.

The microcephalin and ASPM genes are known to be involved in determining brain size and so far have no other known function, he said. They are known to have been under selective pressure during primate evolution as brain size increased, and the chances seem "pretty good" that the new alleles are a continuation of that process, Dr. Lahn said.”


And from the Washington Post:

”For the microcephalin gene, the variation arose about 37,000 years ago, about the time period when art, music and tool-making were emerging, Lahn said. For ASPM, the variation arose about 5,800 years ago, roughly correlating with the development of written language, spread of agriculture and development of cities, he said.

http://tinyurl.com/bc9mg


[**]http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/0275961036/701-5371932-0928350

[***]http://tinyurl.com/77h6y

9/10/2005 10:23:00 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

Greg,

Are you willing to bet that if you call Bruce Lahn and ask him whether his paper has any relevance to musical improvisation in genre-specific and racially appropriate styles, he'll spit his coffee (or beverage of choice) all over the keyboard)?

:)

Andrew,

I went to Mark O'Connor's fiddle camp once, and it was an interesting combination of classically-trained and traditional fiddlers. The latter were monster improvisers, while for the most part, the classically trained fiddlers were too uptight even to try. There was one classical dude who gave very interesting exercises, such as, "play a 3-octave scale in D major as if Bach wrote it"... not surprisingly, he had dropped out of classical music to play jazz violin. He was a real midwestern white boy, of Scandinavian-German descent.

I just wan

9/10/2005 10:37:00 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

oops, clicked by accident.

One thing that most laypeople don't understand about jazz musicians is that they are all very well-schooled in music theory, even if they don't read music (and most do, in this day and age). They know chord progressions, modulation, transpositions, and scales backwards and frontwards, and yes, they know the difference between a major scale and its relative minor (to say the least). You cannot improvise without knowing these things. Musical improvisation in any genre is done according to rigorous rules.

Reading music and knowing music are two abilities that are totally different and unrelated, although I think it makes things easier for the musician who *can* read and write musical notation.

The idea that a great improviser is just a natively talented but unschooled musician is false.

9/10/2005 10:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Jason Malloy said...

"Are you willing to bet that if you call Bruce Lahn and ask him whether his paper has any relevance to musical improvisation in genre-specific and racially appropriate styles, he'll spit his coffee (or beverage of choice) all over the keyboard)?"

Diana, the comment was about the existence of possible *other* genes related to improvisation, not these genes. Furthermore, the observed pattern of talent goes beyond jazz, which is just one example where it shines (the idea originates with no less a formidable intellect than Thomas Sowell, who has more to say about the topic). Further futhermore :), I will most definately take that bet with you that Lahn wouldn't find that suggestion absurd - here are his, revealing, comments on population differences from his interview in The Scientist:

Although Lahn had transferred to Harvard University by the time the government sent in the tanks, his disgust with the system helped shape his scientific career. "I had this idea that the problems with China, in addition to being social, might also have a genetic root." Indeed, all human behavior – our tendency toward violence as well as our capacity for kindness – must, to some extent, be encoded in our DNA. So Lahn decided to study human genetics. "I was attracted by the idea of understanding human behavior, especially how it relates to society, in a deeper way."”

http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2005/09/bruce-lahn.php

Is bio-jazz any more "ridiculous" than bio-communism?

I'm serious, name the amount? I'll email him.

9/10/2005 10:59:00 PM  
Blogger Lizzie said...

Jason, Why is Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences "genuinely absurd"?

9/11/2005 04:43:00 PM  
Blogger Lizzie said...

Andrew- I know you have lots to respond to here, so I don't know if you have a chance for my question, but I was just wondering if it's natural selection that doesn't stop for humans, or if it's evolution that doesn't stop. I'd think that evolution (change in a gene pool) happens, but that natural selection might not, especially since we humans are at least SUPPOSED to try to protect and preserve every human's life.

9/11/2005 04:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Jason Malloy said...

"Jason, Why is Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences "genuinely absurd"?"

Hunt, E. (2001). Multiple views of multiple intelligence [review of intelligence reframed: multiple intelligence in the 21st century]. Contemporary Psychology, 46 (1), 5–7.

Lubinski, D., & Benbow, C. P. (1995). An opportunity for empiricism: review of Howard Gardner’s Multiple intelligences: the theory in practice. Contemporary Psychology, 40, 935–938.

Messick, S. (1992). Multiple intelligences or multilevel intelligence? Selective emphasis on distinctive properties of hierarchy: on Gardner’s Frames of Mind and Sternberg’s Beyond IQ in the context of theory and research on the structure of human abilities. Psychological Inquiry, 3, 365–384.

9/11/2005 07:20:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

I have been away from the internet while all these comments were posted so to Jason Malloy I will only respond briefly to the most egregiously bad arguments.

"Well you sure do like to character assassinate"

Show me where I have assassinated anyone's character?

"a number of interpretations that you have rejected and condemned (i.e. these genes affect cognition)"

I have neither rejected nor condemned these interpretations, but only offered a strong urging of caution. Don't put words in my mouth.

"Is bio-jazz any more "ridiculous" than bio-communism?"

There is nothing in Lahn's interview to suggest that he was talking about a genes especially prevalent in China that would lead to communism.

"are you unaware that the talents of Mozart, Beethoven, and classical musicians are irrelevant to the possible mental talents of sub-Saharan populations?"

No, they're not irrelevant because Sailer's claim was not that Africans are talented at improvisation, but that they are more talented than other populations. This appears to be rooted in no evidence at all other than the idea that jazz was invented by African-Americans and an ignorance of improvisatory traditions in Western music. One might as well have argued that European populations have a greater talent for improvisation.

Lizzie, I think natural selection would still happen even in modern times, but in a different way (as you say, we in society try to protect everyone's life, even/especially people with disabilities who would in "nature" be weeded out). For example, now that contraception is widely available, there might be a strong selection pressure in favor of behavioral tendencies toward wanting to have a lot of children (as opposed to wanting to have a lot of sex, which is probably the main thing selected for in the past). But in any case, life was not so easy even 500 years ago, and the genes here were selected over the last 50,000 years - recent in terms of evolutionary history, but still a long time before the advent of modern health care.

9/12/2005 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger driftwood said...

Selection is differential, isn’t it? That is, whatever selective pressure there is can act only across the distribution of genes in a population, right? I’ve heard that genetic variation in humans is considered to be surprisingly low. Likewise, since a high percentage of humans survive to reproductive age, selective pressures seem like they might be weak. So could it be that selection in humans is at a much lower scale than just random drift? Would random drift be high because the human population—at least for large animals—is large? Is there any good work that has tried to quantify these issues?

As for selecting for an innate desire to have large families, this would have slower effects than culturally induced desires for large families. But the trend worldwide is towards smaller families even in cultures that had valued large families highly. The economic advantage of having few kids to an individual in a modern society is very high.

Interesting that this is the thread that gets all the action.

9/12/2005 04:29:00 PM  
Blogger driftwood said...

More to the point of this thread, could an allele we consider useful (increasing IQ among whatever else it might do) actually have little or no selective advantage? We like the idea of being smart, but is it currently of any use in propagating our genes?

9/12/2005 04:41:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

"I’ve heard that genetic variation in humans is considered to be surprisingly low. "

Yea, I don't know the details, but I think this is true - the explanation is that the human population went through a population bottleneck not so long ago (apparently shortly before modern Homo sapiens left Africa) that would have cut genetic variation.

"Likewise, since a high percentage of humans survive to reproductive age, selective pressures seem like they might be weak."

This is true nowadays, but even two or three hundred years ago was not, I think. A shockingly high fraction of children died before age 5 and mortality rates were, overall, very high. Hence the strong selection pressure for the sickle cell gene to protect against malaria, and many others.

"As for selecting for an innate desire to have large families, this would have slower effects than culturally induced desires for large families."

Yes, that's certainly true - cultures change much more quickly than gene pools... though gene pools would also shape cultures through some extremely messy, complicated, subtle, and hard-to-discern way (i.e., if people had a greater desire for children, this value would be expressed in the culture even if modulated so much that we could hardly see the influence).

"could an allele we consider useful (increasing IQ among whatever else it might do) actually have little or no selective advantage?"

Yes - after all, what we consider useful is very distinct from what helps propagate genes. To talk of having children again, we moderns find it useful to delay having children until after college, but this is a selective disadvantage, as peak fertility years are age 18-22. I'm sure there's no allele for delaying children until after college, but there might be related alleles - hormones controlling sex drive or what have you.

9/12/2005 05:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Jason Malloy said...

"Show me where I have assassinated anyone's character?"

How tiresome, that I even have to go through this. Are you not aware that “racist” is an extreme comment on someone’s character? You assassinated everyone's character who might bring up the incongenial fact that black intelligence is lower and that these papers are consistent with a genetic interpretation of that difference and are inconsistent with a number of important popular arguments against that interpretation. Less generally, you accused Sailer of being a “racist” for “misinterpreting” the study for his jazz quote (even though, as pointed out above, the jazz comment had nothing to do with these genes) :

"Ugh, indeed he has [misinterpreted Lahn in the manner of a racist] . . . What a load of crap."

----------------------------------

I have neither rejected nor condemned these interpretations, but only offered a strong urging of caution. Don't put words in my mouth.

You must have funny definitions of ‘rejected’ and ‘condemned’, because they appear to blur rather seamlessly with “strong urging of caution”. If I saw dark clouds in the sky, and commented that it appeared it was going to rain, while preparing my umbrella, and someone told me that that was “a load of crap” and that there were “multiple ways” to interpret such events, that nothing had been “proven” and that I “hated America” for saying such things, well I might think that they were rejecting that interpretation as one of the better ones, and I might also get the funny idea that I was being condemned:

” Ugh, indeed he has [misinterpreted Lahn in the manner of a racist] . . . What a load of crap. Not only do we not know whether these alleles actually change brain size compared other alleles, we certainly do not know whether they have anything to do with intelligence, and even more certainly do not know whether they have anything to do with what is measured on IQ tests.”

It is disingenuous to pretend you aren’t rejecting an IQ/brain size interpretation of this data as reasonable here, or condemning those who discuss it as such. (though too cowardly in your convictions to bet on it, despite all of us knowing full well that the future promises such testing) Reasonable interpretations can legitimately be discussed openly as such. I certainly don’t believe any quote-unquote “caution” (i.e, silence to suit your blank slate ideology/double-standard) is necessary. An equal society is gained by equal treatment, not equal people. I have no need to be “cautious” to help defend the latter. I don’t believe it, and I see nothing moral about defending it.

“There is nothing in Lahn's interview to suggest that he was talking about a genes especially prevalent in China that would lead to communism.”

Please, don’t waste my time with this pointless kind of hair-splitting. Lahn thought communism was causing China all sorts of problems and wondered if China’s “problems” might have a genetic root. Regardless of what “problems” he had in mind specifically when he said that, it shows his fully sympathetic attitude toward ethnicity and human behavior - which didn't fit the characterization of Lahn spewing milk out his nose after reading that some black talent or another might be genetic.

No, they're not irrelevant because Sailer's claim was not that Africans are talented at improvisation, but that they are more talented than other populations. This appears to be rooted in no evidence at all other than the idea that jazz was invented by African-Americans and an ignorance of improvisatory traditions in Western music.

More talented than Europeans? Man, I can see why that might offend you. Again, it was made clear even in the original comment that it’s not just jazz already; but jazz is rich in improvisation, and is a good example. He provided two examples that reinforced eachother, one of which you completely ignored, and the links have been provided for where you can find more. It may be wrong, but not for the reasons you give, and it certainly wasn’t worth all the drama and insults. Again, maybe one day African-American mental talents (as opposed to physical ones) will be taken seriously enough for study/discussion and given a little recognition, but apparently it’s too taboo today, thanks to heroes such as yourself.

9/12/2005 10:46:00 PM  
Blogger Steve Sailer said...

I don't see anybody rushing to take up Cochran's bet...

I know my critics on this cite don't both er to read much of what I've written other than out-of-context quotes, but others might be interested in my new article that puts New Orleans in a highly necessary broad perspective:

http://www.vdare.com/sailer/050911_new_orleans.htm

9/13/2005 04:40:00 AM  
Blogger Frank McGahon said...

How tiresome, that I even have to go through this. Are you not aware that “racist” is an extreme comment on someone’s character?

Make up your mind. Is it "brave" or deficient in "character" to be a racist? Or perhaps you have a different definition of racist in mind other than the conventionally accepted one?

rac·ism P Pronunciation Key (rszm) n.

The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.

Discrimination or prejudice based on race.

racist adj. & n.


I suggest that by the time you define away "racist" so as not to include you, Steve Sailer, "Godless Capitalist" et al the term is so watered down as to be of no use. If you were really consistent or "brave" you would say, "yes we're racists but so what? racism is right" but instead what you want is the license to propound racist nonsense, persistently misreading and misinterpreting work by others, and yet avoid the opprobrium typically directed at self-declared racists.

9/13/2005 09:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Jason Malloy said...

Frank your lies are transparent, petulant, and vicious as usual. We both know that “racist” has no non-normative connotations, and we both know that if the smoking-gun came out tomorrow for some average population difference in some ability or another, we wouldn’t all – you wouldn’t - willingly don the appellation, per the most august authority of dictionary.com, and would continue to use it solely to describe the promotion of, or participation in, unfair behavior based on race. So, at best, you are being disingenuous, but that’s hardly surprising. Also, we’re not debating “who’s a racist” in some pointless general sense, but if someone has interpreted the Lahn papers falsely. So far, such “misinterpretations” have not been demonstrated (not by Abiola or anyone), though lots of spit has been wasted on likely inferences that Lahn himself subscribes to, and none of these name-calling critics has been willing to make a simple bet that these inferences (which will probably soon be tested) are correct. I wonder why? I have done no such thing as “persistently misreading and misinterpreting work by others”, in fact I haven’t done that at all, which is why you can only assert instead of demonstrate. If you have something of substance to add, please don’t hesitate, but your shallow invective adds precisely nothing to the discussion.

9/13/2005 11:55:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

"If you have something of substance to add, please don’t hesitate, but your shallow invective adds precisely nothing to the discussion."

You've got some nerve saying that on someone else's blog.

"It is disingenuous to pretend you aren’t rejecting an IQ/brain size interpretation of this data as reasonable here, or condemning those who discuss it as such."

No, it isn't. What I was saying was that scientists take a certain amount of skepticism and caution in interpreting their data - which, I might add, Dr Lahn does - and that the comments you and Steve have made seem to me to reflect an eagerness to accept a certain interpretation that is at best only consistent with this data that exceeds the normal bounds of scientific caution to such an extent that it seems reasonable to attribute the eagerness not to "a reasonable spirit of scientific inquiry" but to racial prejudice.

Lahn thought communism was causing China all sorts of problems and wondered if China’s “problems” might have a genetic root. Regardless of what “problems” he had in mind specifically when he said that, it shows his fully sympathetic attitude toward ethnicity and human behavior

No, it doesn't. I stand by my interpretation of his statement. And again, you've got some nerve telling me not to waste your time, when this is my blog, not yours, and it's my time that's being wasted, not yours.

"your blank slate ideology/double-standard"

Complete BS. Why don't you read a little bit more of my blog before you claim that I adhere to the blank slate ideology?

On this bet nonsense, I don't know why you two are making such a big deal about it. Just because you say it's cowardly not to make bets on scientific discoveries doesn't make it so. (If anything, bets have an added value of approximately zero in terms of "bravery" - for scientists, $20 here or there is nothing compared to the pain of having staked your reputation on something and being wrong.) I have never made a bet on scientific results, and don't plan to. It's bad enough that I'm, in essence, betting my entire scientific career that my own experiments will come out with interesting results; I'm not about to waste my energy making bets in other fields.

9/13/2005 01:37:00 PM  
Blogger Frank McGahon said...

We both know that “racist” has no non-normative connotations,

Huh? what we do both know is that pretty much everyone apart from the soi-disant "race realists" uses the definition I provided. You can't have it both ways: If you want to avoid the opprobrium and the normative recommendation implicit in the negative connotation attached to the word "racist", you're going to have to surrender your attachment to the "belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others." If you find yourself unable to do so, then you might as well "bravely" embrace the term (hey, maybe you can turn it into a badge of honour like "queer" and "nigga"?). What won't do is to weasel out of it with an evasive term like "race realist" which attempts to draw a bright line between the cranks in the comments section of gnxp and the cranks at majorityrights or stormfront, as if they differ by kind instead of merely by degree.

I have done no such thing as “persistently misreading and misinterpreting work by others”, in fact I haven’t done that at all

No? How about Abigail "it makes you want to cry" Thernstrom which you trumpet all the time seemingly unaware how her example undermines the hereditarian case.

9/13/2005 02:56:00 PM  
Anonymous mc said...

"belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.""

Well, as JFK (Sr.) noted: "Life isn't fair."
Nature could care less about hurting anyone's feelings -- such worries are the job of society, so we do need to think how this will play out. There is no law of nature that says genes must conform to common, current expectations. We really have to be careful of the 'don't bother me with the facts, my mind is made up' attitude. The information will be speeding down the pike faster than we can duck and cover.

Seems to me, the whole idea of "racism", not to mention its wrongness, is relatively new, and pretty much invented by the western (white) societies most often accused of it. This is not because racial exclusiveness is new--tribalism is age-old-- but because it was seen to be wrong and counterproductive in a modern society.
Speaking of whites, one pale-face of my acquaintance, religiously devoted to pc, once insisted to her embarrassed listeners, that black music was superior to boring white music, as it was more soulful, real, etc. A black guy among us, somewhat put off by her effusions, remarked in a low, surprised voice: "irish folk music is inferior?" A musician himself, appreciator of many kinds of music, and a graduate of a v. good university, he was not flattered by such a patronizing, unthought-out opinion.
One thing about music, though. As with humor, its expression doesn't always translate well from one cultural or racial group to another. The French never understood the Marx brothers (1930s comedy, not the Communists,)and we don't understand how the French can't get enough of those miming clowns.
There are some kinds of music that just don't get a universal thumbs-up, while others do; yet Chinese opera, native American flute songs, and Swiss accordian music have all had their devotees.
Scientists have even suggested that music may hold a key to the workings of the brain. When I listen to what kind of music is produced by different categories of people, I find that idea makes a lot of sense, and doesn't necessarily get into the "superior" / "inferior" dichotomy.
At any rate, in trying to find out what makes 6 billion people tick, Mr. Lahn will go down as a pioneer and visionary. He's got his work cut out for him; I just hope they don't cut out his work.

9/13/2005 05:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Jason Malloy said...

"You've got some nerve saying that on someone else's blog."

Oh, yes, Andrew, I overstepped the lines of your blog's favored manner of discourse in responding to that cordial, substantive comment by Frank, about what a racist crank I am. What “nerve”!

"No, it isn't. What I was saying was that scientists take a certain amount of skepticism and caution in interpreting their data"

“Skepticism” and “caution” do not mean what you’re saying they do. I’ve already been over this (see the 4 point statement above). The bottom line is that you’ve unjustifiably condemned both hypothetical and real comments on this study for dubiously justified reasons.

” . . . and that the comments you and Steve have made seem to me to reflect an eagerness to accept a certain interpretation that is at best only consistent with this data that exceeds the normal bounds of scientific caution to such an extent that it seems reasonable to attribute the eagerness not to "a reasonable spirit of scientific inquiry" but to racial prejudice.”

Andrew, “at best only consistent with this data”, is pretty damn good, especially when it seems clear this is about as far as you appear qualified to judge anyways (having no knowledge of the psychometric/behavior genetic literature my views are predicated on. I pointed you to a book that can help remedy this, but you chose to denigrate others over humility). The rest is just more personal attacks – any bishop, unswayed by (and, really, uninterested in, due to prior convictions) the logic behind the biogeography forms, could assert that atheism, rather than science, was driving Darwin’s predictions for human evolution, but the proof that his reasoning was sound was in how accurate they were. The holdout Bishops keep pointing to the gaps – maybe some earlier transitional forms to falsify Darwin are in Antarctica or Ohio, after all we haven’t dug everywhere yet – but of course we haven’t found these Ohio hominids yet because those modern bishops don’t make predictions, just decry them after revealed as correct as “showing nothing”. In fact bishops see predictions themselves as a kind of evil; “speculations” do they call them?

” And again, you've got some nerve telling me not to waste your time, when this is my blog, not yours, and it's my time that's being wasted, not yours.”

How dare I challenge King Andrew on his blog! RRRAAARRR. You know how to ban. I’ve already said I’m also willing to bet the meanings and implications of Lahn’s Scientist interview. I’ve even offered to Email him for clarification. As usual no takers, just name-callers and an ego the size of Texas.

Complete BS. Why don't you read a little bit more of my blog before you claim that I adhere to the blank slate ideology?

I don’t need to. I already know you have Blank Slate double-standards for genes and race, cloaked under the mantel of “caution”. See link above.

” It's bad enough that I'm, in essence, betting my entire scientific career that my own experiments will come out with interesting results

Now imagine on top of that people calling you a “Terrorist” or a “Christian Hater”, or a “Homophobe” for your work and ideas, knowing full well if you’re wrong (and probably even if you’re right) these labels will stick. Interesting that you now admit the role of prior expectations in science and experiment. Could it be that you started out with odious, inappropriate “expectations”. I hope you didn’t discuss them anywhere beforehand – that would be wrong for some reason.

Or is that only if they are ideologically offensive to Andrew?

9/13/2005 08:42:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

I don’t need to. I already know you have Blank Slate double-standards for genes and race, cloaked under the mantel of “caution”.

How's that for "don't trouble me with the facts, my mind's made up already"? And you say that I have shut my mind to empirical inquiry due to my preconceptions? Whatever.

You know how to ban.

Something I should have done several comments back. I'm done discussing this with you at least on this thread; return to comment on another topic if you wish, but any further comments you make on this thread will be deleted.

Could it be that you started out with odious, inappropriate “expectations”

I never said that expectations are odious and inappropriate, only that it's odious and inappropriate to jump to conclusions and express speculation with too much certainty. I see no problem with Bruce Lahn going ahead with the IQ v. ASPM/microcephalin study under the expectation that there might be some relationship (as long as this expectation doesn't bias the result), only a problem with people discussing the matter as if the relationship had already been settled (though cloaking this discussion under the mantle of "reasonable speculation").

at best only consistent with this data”, is pretty damn good

Uh, not really, if the exact opposite hypothesis is equally consistent with this data (i.e., that the selected-for variants of ASPM and microcephalin actually decrease IQ test scores).

Oh, yes, Andrew, I overstepped the lines of your blog's favored manner of discourse in responding to that cordial, substantive comment by Frank, about what a racist crank I am. What “nerve”!

The "nerve" is in your assuming what my favored manner of discourse is (and for the record, it does not consist of making repeated pseudo-taunts about taking or not taking bets after being repeatedly told that bets are not a measure of scientific courage, or in telling someone they have an ego the size of Texas, or in using my name condescendingly).

Suddenly I understand why Abiola instituted such a severe commenter-banning policy.

9/13/2005 10:04:00 PM  
Anonymous sam said...

Jason Malloy, Godless and Greg Cochran have been running the length and breath of the blogosphere pushing the same talking points. I think your banning of him on this thread is long overdue.

9/13/2005 11:08:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

I think your banning of him on this thread is long overdue.

Yes, I agree!

9/13/2005 11:25:00 PM  
Anonymous leo felton said...

Still waiting for revelations about the lofty intellect and great cultural achievements of the New Guineans. Am also curious how the Chinese and Japanese have fared so well in spite of low gene frequencies. Perhaps if it was explained to me by an art major with no scientific training? Or a movie critic who never passed calc?

9/14/2005 12:44:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Still waiting for revelations about the lofty intellect and great cultural achievements of the New Guineans.

Don't forget the Native Americans!

Perhaps if it was explained to me by an art major with no scientific training?

Maybe! We had one on here but he's just been banned... (On the other hand, it doesn't seem sporting to poke at someone who can't respond so perhaps we ought to lay off ...)

9/14/2005 12:56:00 AM  
Blogger Steve Sailer said...

Banning people who win arguments with you ... pretty sad!

9/15/2005 12:14:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

He didn't win, and it's you who's sad, not me.

9/15/2005 12:37:00 AM  
Blogger Diana said...

A few observations.

I never quoted anyone out of context.

I brought up a relevant comment that outraged the GNXP clique who, predictably, descended in a pack on this comment line, exhibiting characteristic adolescent behavior: insults, taunts, sneering, and wild charges.

Claiming you were quoted out of context is a ruse and a dodge employed by intellectual cowards and whiners.

This happened once before, with respect to the Iraq war, on GNXP. Sailer claimed he was quoted out of context about his (admittedly lukewarm) support of the Iraq war, and Godless Capitalist responded by posting a selection of quotations, which Sailer denounced as "cherrypicking."

Trite.

Jason Malloy seems have gotten himself so wound up that he forgot who said what. "Diana, the comment was about the existence of possible *other* genes related to improvisation, not these genes."

Well, yes, that was exactly my point!

Sailer made a ridiculous, ludicrous, dumb comment, that had zero, zilch, nothing to do with Lahn's paper, and everything to do with certain fixations about blacks that he constantly harps upon.

Quoting Thomas Sowell (more trite, predictable GNXP clique behavior) is proof of...nothing. Sowell is an engaging but unoriginal self-promoter, whose opinionating about the so-called liberal destruction of inner city education is content-free and incidentally, contradicts most of Sailer's theorizing. But that's a subject for another comment line.

Lastly, the responses to Hurricane Katrina didn't show humanity at its finest, I'll admit. (For the most part.) The African-American looters who attacked medical crews, a particularly disgusting crime, should be fed to the alligators, IMO.

But wait. If you read the NY Times today, you'll see that an Italian-American couple has been arrested for abandoning helpless old people in the NOLA nursing home they ran -- after having been warned and cited many times. What a cold, horrible thing to do--abandon helpless old folks to die a horrible death. What does this prove? Innate Mediterranean perfidy?

Ah, those Machiavellian Italians, yes...that's it...

9/15/2005 01:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Peter said...

"Uh, not really, if the exact opposite hypothesis is equally consistent with this data (i.e., that the selected-for variants of ASPM and microcephalin actually decrease IQ test scores"

Interesting hypothesis, but why would selection favor lower IQ? There is a body of literature showing that higher IQ is advantageous. Can you cite any studies showing that lower IQ is advantageous (under the conditions that existed 5,000 to 40,000 years ago)?

9/16/2005 01:21:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Do you want to start by citing the studies showing that higher IQ was advantageous under the conditions that existed 5,000 to 40,000 years ago?

9/16/2005 08:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Peter said...

I could. But it's better to settle one question at a time. Otherwise, the initial question might get swept under the rug ...

So to restate my question: You propose a hypothesis that is "equally" consistent with the data. The hypothesis itself, however, seems internally inconsistent, unless one assumes that the pressure of natural selection has been in the direction of reduced human intelligence. This is an unusual assumption and in normal academic debate the burden of proof is on those who make unusual assumptions. Or have I missed something?

9/17/2005 01:20:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

But it's better to settle one question at a time.

The reason I asked my counter-question is that I need to know what standard of evidence I need to meet. That is, it seems to me that you're trying to advance the claim that there's more evidence that high IQ was advantageous in the Stone Age than than high IQ was disadvantageous in the Stone Age. But I don't know of any evidence of the former, so my baseline on proving the latter is, well, zero. Maybe you can change this.

seems internally inconsistent, unless one assumes that the pressure of natural selection has been in the direction of reduced human intelligence.

I disagree - my hypothesis was that these alleles might well decrease IQ while presumably having some other beneficial effect (obviously there must have been some beneficial effect or it wouldn't have been selected for). This doesn't assume that natural selection has generally been in favor of reduced human intelligence, but only that not everything selected for has to be in the direction of increased intelligence. To pick a trivial example, natural selection would select for strong bones and muscles and so on - but these things take energy away from the brain and thus, in an abstract way, reduce intelligence (because the body could have devoted the energy to building a bigger or more complexly wired brain). To pick a more relevant example, as I said to Steve somewhere ages ago on this thread, even if one allows that there is some distinction to be made between IQ scores and "improvisatory intelligence," there's no a priori reason to think that these alleles would increase IQ scores, rather than increasing "improvisatory intelligence" - especially given one theory that intelligence was selected for mainly as a way of outsmarting your fellow humans in social situations.

9/17/2005 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger Frank McGahon said...

This is an unusual assumption and in normal academic debate the burden of proof is on those who make unusual assumptions. Or have I missed something?

You have indeed missed something. It's rather simplistic to assume that more IQ always means more fitness. For instance, let's hypothesise that individuals of higher IQ are more rational in calculating their own interest over individuals of lower IQ. Let's say they have better impulse control and are wont to analyse any situation before proceeding. Now, it is clear that, up to a point, this would increase fitness - you are more likely to survive to be able to reproduce. But beyond a certain threshold, you have diminishing returns. Once you reach the survivability threshold, higher IQ might mean reduced fitness. For one, the interests of the individual are not always the same as the interests of his "genes". Childless Steven Pinker famously told his "genes" to go and jump in a lake. This type of attitude would obviously reduce/destroy fitness. Secondly, those prone to paralysing analysis and finely tuned impulse control would seem to be at a selective evolutionary disadvantage - they will have fewer or no children - compared to those more likely to "accidentally" knock up/get knocked up.

9/17/2005 10:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Peter said...

Fine. You win. Natural selection must have progressively reduced the intelligence of your ancestors.

9/17/2005 08:08:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

What a complete misinterpretation of what I said! If there's anything that shows I have won, it's the silly remark you just made.

9/18/2005 01:18:00 AM  
Anonymous sam said...

Banning people who win arguments with you ... pretty sad!

that's so rich coming from someone who constantly attacks people on his blog without giving them opportunity to respond to those attacks.

And what important thing do you have to say about every imaginable topic, especially topics like genetics where you have next to nothing in terms of training?

9/18/2005 07:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Peter said...

Sorry for the smart-ass comment. It was inappropriate.

9/22/2005 06:09:00 PM  
Blogger Lizzie said...

Andrew,

In the midst of a heated argument that I had no hope of following, I do appreciate your response to my side question. It was tres helpful, and I shall soon do a post on it. Thank you!

9/25/2005 05:35:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Lizzie - no problem, I'm glad you found it helpful!

Peter - apology accepted.

9/26/2005 06:31:00 PM  
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